Review: The Bookworm

51mmaglqrll-_sx329_bo1204203200_Recap: She’s lovingly called “The Bookworm” by her friends, but Lara Klimt is more than just a nerdy bookworm. She’s a Russian historian and former Soviet chess champion who suddenly finds herself attempting to solve a mystery that landed in her lap — a mystery dating back to the 1940’s during the rise of Adolf Hitler. She must listen to six recordings from a then-famous actor and playwright who — unbeknownst to her and…well…most people — was secretly a British agent reporting to Winston Churchill. All this coincides with her being asked to interview the U.S. President live on Russian television.

If something smells funky, it most likely is. Lara works to unravel the mystery of these tapes, trying to figure out how it connects to today while also trying to keep her distance from the man who sought her out for the Presidential interview.

AnalysisThe Bookworm packs a punch similar to that of a Dan Brown novel. Similarly it uses a quasi-historical fiction plot mixed with thriller that sees our heroine attempt to solve a mystery by using her mind more than her actions. Combine that with the back-and-forth between the 1940’s and present day and The Bookworm has all ingredients in the recipe for my favorite kind of books. It held up until the last third of the book. Maybe it was my own personal lack of knowledge of Britain’s role in WWII or maybe it was the abundance of foreign character names, but eventually I got some of the storylines crossed and was confused as to the intent of some of the characters.

The end seemed to wrap up rather quickly and the reconciliation between Lara and her ex seemed far-fetched, especially after the novel made it clear from the beginning that he was never kind to her. I would have preferred to hear more from the WWII-era tapes to better understand how everything came together.

MVP: Lara. Her brilliance still shines throughout the novel — albeit maybe not in the romance department. Even when she seems unsure of how to crack the historical case, she realizes what she needs to do to achieve a breakthrough. Her mind is steady and her bookworminess pays off.

Get The Bookworm  in hardcover for $17.07. 

Or get it on your Kindle for $12.99.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Reviews

‘Fire and Fury’ Forces More Print, Causes Confusion

methode2ftimes2fprod2fweb2fbin2ff3b86ff8-f2d7-11e7-a480-969f697997eaAfter portions of Michael Wolff’s book Fire and Fury, detailing life inside President Trump’s White House were made public, publishers moved up the release down of the book. Now according to The Guardianit’s sold out practically everywhere. Sales have gone through the roof in stores, online, in ebook format and audiobook format to the point where publishers have ordered an extra million copies to be printed.

None of this is a surprise really, considering it includes not-so-subtle President Trump bashing. But what may be a surprise is how much sales of Fire and Fury are impacting other books…that include Fire and Fury in the title.

According to NewsweekFire and Fury: The Allied Bombing of Germany, 1942-1945 is seeing a spike in sales. So is Fire and Fury: How the US Isolates North Korea, Encircles China and Risks Nuclear War in Asia. While some of these authors assume that people have simply confused their books for Michael Wolff’s, some admit these titles popped up online as suggested books based on their purchase of Wolff’s Fire and Fury.

Either way, the authors are grateful, with one even explaining “I’m gratified that more people will read a book about the horrors of war, what it does to human bodies and the difficulty of even the most well-intentioned leaders (which Trump certainly is not) in maintaining their moral commitments in wartime. With a dangerous, unstable and deranged demagogue controlling the greatest armed forces the world has ever seen, I can think of no better time to reflect on these issues.”

Leave a comment

Filed under News Articles

Lara’s Top Picks of 2017

booksWelcome to my seventh edition of “Top Picks!” Easily one of my favorite blog posts of the year, this is where I explain which were my ten favorite books I read this year. Again, this has nothing to do with what year they came out. In fact, I’m pretty sure none of the books I read this year were published in 2017. For a list of the best books published this year, check out The New York Times annual Notable Books list. For now, here are the best books I read this year (followed by the complete list of all the books I read this year).

10. Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher. With the hype over the TV series, it was finally time to read the bestselling YA novel that had been on my “to-read” list for a couple of years, and the book is much better than the series. It is more streamlined, focusing on a girl who — before she commits suicide — records audiotapes on which she describes why and who led her to the decision of taking her own life. It is haunting, but telling in the way it discusses depression, high school, human interactions, and how one seemingly small act can have big impacts. Buy it now.

9. Best Day Ever by Kaira Rouda. This Gone Girl-esque story about a man trying to kill his wife is chilling, but the format is what makes it stand out from other similar novels. Written completely from the husband’s perspective until the epilogue, the book has a scary way of showing how a sociopath is one kind of person on the outside and a completely different person on the inside.  Buy it now.

8. When the Future Comes Too Soon by Selina Siak Chin Yoke. This WWII-era novel shows the war from a viewpoint we don’t usually get in novels: that of a Malayan woman whose town has been bombed. The story is one of heartbreaking family drama and female power, detailing how the war affects her husband’s health, her marriage, and the new relationships she forms. Buy it now.

7. All the Best People by Sonja Yoerg. This powerful story about four women from the same family is all about relationships. Going back and forth between character and time period, it shows that no matter the age or era, we are all struggling to find answers and understand each other. Buy it now.

6. Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick. In this hilarious memoir, Anna Kendrick gives us an honest glimpse into her awkward and yet, extremely successful career. She’s only 32 years old, but she reminds us just how much she’s accomplished in those years and why a memoir for such a young actress is warranted. She’s got the stories to back it all up. Buy it now.

5. Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty. The book — and the HBO series — are worth the hype. This female-driven novel is more than just women’s fiction. It’s a murder mystery. It’s an honest portrayal of domestic abuse. It’s a solid representation of fierce women building each other up instead of taking each other down. Buy it now. 

4. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. This book and Hulu series are also worth the hype. (Gosh, looks like there’s a running theme here…) This bestselling novel has won a plethora of awards for a reason. The feminist novel is set in a dystopian future in which the world population has decreased because of problems with reproduction. The handmaids are essentially trapped in a men-run world, forced into rape and abuse. But with every incident comes more incentive to try and get out. Buy it now. 

3. Lord of the Flies by William Golding. The ultimate classic tale of what happens when a bunch of kids are trapped on a deserted island is as relevant as ever. The only thing better than the plot and characters are the layers and layers of metaphor and symbolism. The book explains pretty much all we know and understand about the roots of evil and human nature. Buy it now.

2. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi. It hurts me to make this #2 because it just as easily could have been my number one pick for the year. This memoir penned by a dying doctor in his 30’s is the most honest portrayal of death and the search for the meaning of life that I have ever come across. This book will make you cry, but it will also make you think. I finished it two weeks ago, and I already want to re-read it with a highlighter so I can save my favorite quotes. Thank you, Paul, for leaving this beautiful piece of work for us before you left our world. Buy it now

1. A Race Like No Other by Liz Robbins. You don’t have to be a runner, nor do you need to be a New York to appreciate this nonfiction book about the magic that is the New York City Marathon. Year after year, it is one of the most challenging feats for anyone to overcome. It is painful. It is crazy. But it is awe-inspiring and stunning. It is captured beautifully by this sports journalist who follows the elite athletes who run it to win, the addicts who run it to prove something to themselves and their families, the sick who run it to show they are still strong and the charitable to run it for the greater good. Nothing will change your life like a marathon, and this book explains why. Buy it now.

BOOKS I’VE READ 2017

Scrappy Little Nobody – Anna Kendrick

The Corrections – Jonathan Franzen

Big Little Lies – Liane Moriarty

Walk Into Silence – Susan McBride

Modern Romance – Aziz Ansari

All the Best People – Sonja Yoerg

True Colors – Kristin Hannah

The Lord of the Flies – William Golding

Fame Junkies – Jake Halpern

Valley of the Dolls – Jacqueline Susann

Can’t Buy Forever – Susan Laffoon

When the Future Comes Too Soon – Selina Siak Chin Yoke

The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood

That Crazy Perfect Someday – Michael Mazza

A Race Like No Other – Liz Robbins

Best Day Ever – Kaira Rouda

And Then I Am Gone: A Walk with Thoreau – Mathias B. Freese

Thirteen Reasons Why – Jay Asher

When Breath Becomes Air – Paul Kalanithi

The Bookworm – Mitch Silver

Leave a comment

Filed under Reviews

Review: When Breath Becomes Air

41ozmb3iwvl-_sx348_bo1204203200_Recap: Paul Kalanithi is on the up-and-up. He is an aspiring neuroscientist with big dreams of performing difficult surgeries, saving lives and eventually writing a book in his later years. With degrees in medicine and literature, he has his whole life mapped out. But his marriage is failing. And with his graduation from residency within his grasp, he begins to experience fatigue and horrific back pain. As a doctor, he knows this can only mean one thing: cancer.

After lots of tests, doctors and people in disbelief, it turns out he is right. Kalanithi has a rare form of cancer, at the age of 36. He goes into treatment. He strengthens his relationship with his wife. He fights it. He gets better. And then he gets worse. He knows the end is near. And suddenly he must fast forward his life plans. But by how much? How much time does he have left? He ultimately learns there’s no way of knowing, and he has no choice but to accept that. But as his life comes to an end, he writes this beautiful, touching memoir. Kalanithi now lives on forever in his words and leaves the most important lessons he’s learned for all of us.

Analysis: I purchased this book in the final days of my father’s life. At the time, I was desperate to understand — medically — what was happening to him. He had Alzheimer’s and was unconscious, so I knew he had  little, if any, logical brain activity. But his breaths were fewer and fewer each minute, and his skin had begun the mottling process. I was suddenly hearing terms I’d never heard before and wanted to know everything about them. Ultimately, the hospice nurses encouraged my mother and I to leave my father’s side and not come back. I wondered if she was trying to imply that maybe he was holding on simply because we were in the room with him. Or maybe she just didn’t want us to see all the other horrible — and gross bodily things — that happen when a person dies. So we left, and my husband and I visited what has always been one of my favorite places in my hometown:  Barnes and Noble. I purchased this book along with a self-help book. I was seeking answers that day.

My dad died two days after that. And yet, I didn’t begin reading When Breath Becomes Air until five months later. Mostly I was busy and wasn’t reading very much at all. But when I went away on a short vacation five months later, I knew this was a book I could knock out in just a few days. (I am not a fast reader.) Retrospectively, I wonder if I waited to read it because I subconsciously knew I needed time to digest my father’s death before reading about Paul Kalanithi’s death. Or maybe I was jealous of the way Paul passed away — not jealous of his age or his condition but of his ability to process his oncoming death in a way that my father mentally could not.

Either way, this book helped me process not just my father’s death, but death in general, which was something I desperately needed. After reading this book, I have accepted that ultimately we all face death and never know when it will hit us. In the way mortality often does, this memoir reaffirms the necessity  of living life to the fullest and cherishing each day. But it also tells us that it is okay if certain dreams aren’t achieved in our lifetime. It’s not what we do that’s important, but who we do it with and how we lived — in more general terms. Though he spends most of his life seeking the meaning of life and death, Paul Kalanithi doesn’t find his answer until his end. But he does the most heavenly, generous thing of all: he gives us all a glimpse into what he learned, in the hopes that we will all live more fully. So I will do that — for Paul and for my dad.

Get When Breath Becomes Air in hardcover for $17.50.

Or on your Kindle for $12.99.

Leave a comment

Filed under Reviews

Show vs. Book: The Handmaid’s Tale

Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale has gone down in history as one of the most feminist novels of all time, earning the author several literary awards in the 1980’s when it was first published. But its debut this summer as a streaming series on Hulu has made the story shockingly relative in Trump’s America. Its themes about a male-dominated misogynist society are eye-opening as every other week it seems more Harvey Weinstein’s and Kevin Spacey’s are coming out of the woodwork.

The book tells the story of Offred, a handmaid who, in a dystopian future, has been forced to serve a family as little more than a mechanism for reproduction after widespread sterility has caused the world population to drop. Essentially raped monthly in the hopes of becoming pregnant, Offred does all she can to not only stay alive but stay sane as she wonders whatever happened to her husband and daughter. The story takes us through flashbacks of her former life as she works to find a way out of this chilling world.

Haunting is the best way to describe Offred’s tale, and that is upheld in the television series. Everything from its cold lighting and cinematography to the many close-ups of Offred’s (Elizabeth Moss’s) face as she is raped, locked in her room, or given opportunities to leave her Commander’s home exemplify the bitterness of this lonely, foreign world.

Turning the 300+ page novel into ten episodes of television allows for more detail and more story, and that’s exactly what the series offers. We learn Offred’s name “from before,” which is a detail never revealed in the novel. We learn exactly what happens to some of Offred’s other handmaid friends, including Ofglen, which — because the book is written strictly from Offred’s perspective is — is also not part of the book. The series also added meetings the Offred’s Commander has with Mexican government officials about adopting the same policies to boost reproduction. There is also an entire episode that shows us where Offred’s husband from her “former life” is now and how he got there.

Where I’m normally upset with how much liberty a show or film takes with a novel, it feels okay here. Maybe it’s because the detail given in the novel is so sparse, it’s simply a given that story would have to be added. Maybe it’s because the show matches the book so well in tone that all feels right with this adaptation. Or maybe it’s because the show is just so well executed with its writing, directing and acting. Whatever the case, the show does an excellent job of using the book as a jumping off point, season one ending exactly where the novel does. The rest of the series moving forward will now be entirely new, unread story and I’m okay with that, as I’m sure Margaret Atwood would be as well.

Get The Handmaid’s Tale in paperback now for $9.99.

Leave a comment

Filed under Movie vs. Book, Reviews

Review: And Then I Am Gone: A Walk With Thoreau

61deu6ntxslRecap: A move to the Southern countryside is not cause for Mathias B. Freese to begin thinking about the end of his life — he’s been doing that for years — but it does trigger it. After all, he’s in his seventies, and this will likely be the place where he dies. Freese reflects on how he got to this moment —  where he succeeded and where he stumbled — in his latest memoir. But he also asks the age-old question: What is the point? What is the true meaning of life? His latest book is an experimental dive into the question to which there is no answer. But he continues to ask it anyway. At times he writes of self-awareness. In other moments, he writes just to write, to pass time.

He reflects on the works of literary gods and philosophers to help answer the question. He takes long walks in the woods. He goes to the doctor to try and improve his health — or at least maintain it. He spends time with his new wife decorating and fixing up their new house. In this book he writes about not only a physical journey — his move to Alabama — but also his philosophical, emotional and spiritual journey.

Analysis: To sit and think for long periods about death, life and the meaning of it is beyond undesirable to most — it is sad, worrying and maybe even nauseating. That’s the way it is for Freese too. He does not pretend to be above the rest of us. That said, he still pursues it head-on in a way many wouldn’t have the guts to do. I certainly don’t.

There were moments, in fact, upon reading his memoir when I had to stop because the panicky thoughts of my own mortality were too much to bear. Maybe it’s because I’ve had a recent significant death in my family that has zapped a lot of joy out of me and injected me with a heavy dose of irritability and grief. But mostly, I think anyone would find these topics difficult. What is there but life, right? It is all we have. As Freese points out frequently, we spend so much time thinking about other things — mostly trivial — that we never sit and think about our life on a grander scale.  I identified with Freese and his anxieties, which made his memoir feel all the more moving and important, and I don’t think I’m alone in feeling this way.

Get And Then I Am Gone in paperback for $8.95. 

Or on your Kindle for $6.99.

Leave a comment

Filed under Reviews

‘Glee”s Chris Colfer Lands New Book Deal

chris-colfer-talks-new-book-stranger-than-fanfiction-at-ew-popfest-04As the Fox TV hit show “Glee” was winding down, star Chris Colfer was already working on his next project, a book series for children called The Land of Stories. 

Fast forward four years, and according to Entertainment Weekly, Colfer’s books have spent 48 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. So it should be no surprise that he’s landed yet another book deal. He’s writing an insider’s guide to The Land of Stories as well as two books in a new series.

The insider’s guide is set to be released next fall. The new series is set to be published in 2019.

This comes after Colfer partnered with Twentieth Century Fox and Shawn Levy’s 21 Laps to adapt The Land of Series into films. The first film, The Wishing Spell, will mark Colfer’s directorial debut.

Leave a comment

Filed under Author News, News Articles